Incredible Total Eclipse Video Taken from Balloon at 120,000 Feet

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 29 2012 1:45 PM

Incredible Eclipse Video, Taken from 120,000+ Feet!

Total solar eclipse seen by high altitude balloon

Stop whatever you’re doing and watch this video: Taken from a high-altitude balloon, it shows Australia’s Nov. 14, 2012 total solar eclipse as seen from 37,000 meters (120,000+ feet, nearly 23 miles) above the Earth!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Holy wow! The part that amazes me the most—besides the fact that anyone can do this at all—is seeing the shadow of the Moon on the Earth below. Let me explain. …


By a cosmic coincidence, the Moon and Sun appear to be about the same size in our sky. Not only that, it so happens that as the Moon orbits the Earth, every now and again it can pass directly in front of the Sun, blocking it, causing a total solar eclipse. To us standing on Earth, we see the Sun slowly disappear as it’s covered by the dark disk of the Moon. (See more pictures and another video of this in my earlier post covering this eclipse.)

But if you were to look down on the Earth from a height, what you would see is the shadow of the Moon sweeping around the Earth, traveling at very roughly one kilometer per second (about half a mile per second). The Moon’s shadow is round, but can be stretched into an ellipse due to the curvature of the Earth (just like casting a shadow onto a slanted surface distorts the length of the shadow).

The shadow of the Moon on the Earth during a total solar eclipse
The shadow of the Moon on the Earth during November's total solar eclipse, seen from 120,000+ feet. Screen grab from the video.

Image credit: Marc Ulieriu

So this balloon, from its tremendous height, can see that shadow laid out below, cast on the clouds and surface of the Earth. Due to perspective, the shadow appears to converge toward the horizon—the same effect that makes railroad tracks appear to converge in the distance. The overall effect is like something out of Lord of the Rings: a darkness cast upon the Earth.

The balloon was launched by a team of Romanians and Australians. From the video description (translated by Google Translate and cleaned up a bit):

“Nov. 14, 2012, NE Australia, Queensland. A Romanian-Australian team successfully launched a balloon into space during the total solar eclipse of 14 November. Balloon Science & Technology Eclipser 1 reached a maximum altitude of 36,800 m +, ranking third place among all-time Australian stratospheric flights.”

To be clear, it wasn’t really in space, which is defined as beginning 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the Earth’s surface. But 37,000 meters is nothing to sneer at, either. That’s seriously way up there.

Amazing. I love that there are clever people who dream of doing amazing things, and by doing so, bring the beauty of the Universe literally down to Earth.

Tip o the welder’s mask to on Twitter.


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